My family will tell you that I like to be in control in the kitchen. I like my fridge organized in certain ways. I want everything lined up by height or type on the doors. I like my cupboards organized and I don’t like clutter on the counters. I helped my sister move into a new condo this summer and since she had to work, I set up their kitchen and I told her I would do it my way (which was the right way) and then she could rearrange it later. I set it up with almost nothing on the counters and after I left I asked her if she changed anything. She said, yes, there was a lot more stuff on the counters because that doesn’t bother her. It bothers me.
We all have those things we like to control and God help the person who gets in our way. For some of you it might be the kitchen, for others it might how clothes are folded, or what your family wears, for others it might be the schedules of everyone in your family, or how your spouse drives but for each of us there is something and the vicious cycle is that the more we try to be in control the more we realize we don’t have control so we work harder to get control. The answer to this merry-go-round isn’t to stop caring and let it all go, the answer is to surrender control to God.
One of the most well known proverbs gives us direction on how to choose surrender, Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to God and he will make your paths straight. So in all ways we need to submit to God or surrender to Him instead of trying to be in control and what helps us surrender to God isn’t thinking we can do it all but knowing God is in control and can do all things. Surrender really is an issue of trust. Do we trust God more than we trust ourselves? Surrendering to God and allowing God to act in our lives and on our behalf is important because when we try to control every situation, things can go very wrong – very fast.
Perhaps the best example of control gone bad is found in the story of Abram and Sarai who had been promised by God that they would have a son. God didn’t make this promise once, but several times and yet as every year passed they began to question whether or not God was going to come through. When it looked like things weren’t going to happen, Sarai took matters into her own hands and told Abram to have a child with her servant Hagar so that at least there would be an offspring. They didn’t trust God to do it so they did it themselves. Genesis 16:1-4a
So Abram and Hagar had a child. They took control of the situation and came up with their own plan but things didn’t go as they planned. In time, God was true to his world and gave Abram and Sarai their own son and it wasn’t long until there was division and jealousy between the two boys. And here’s where we see the negative consequences of our need to be in control. The division and animosity between these two boys has continued through history.
Abram and Sarai’s son was Isaac who was the father of all the people of Israel. Abram and Hagar’s son was Ishmael and from him came the Palestinian people and the prophet Mohammed. One couple trying to control a situation has led to most of the territorial and religious fighting we have seen in the Middle East through all of history. This is what can happen when we try to control every situation. It may not lead to world conflict but trying to control everything leads to great conflict in our lives and our relationships. When we try to do things in our wisdom and our strength, in our time and in our way – it leads to chaos and confusion for our live and the lives of others.
Can you name what you are trying to control? Is it your children or parents? Are you trying to make sure that every detail of their lives is planned to perfection? Are you trying to control your job by trying to control what everyone around you is doing? Are you trying to control your image? Your spouse’s image? Your children’s image? Are you trying to control your finances and planning things according to your will and plans? Before we can figure out if we need to choose surrender over control we have to determine what it is we are trying to control. I want to invite you this week to spend some time asking yourself what it is you are trying to control and if it is something that you really need to surrender.
To help us determine if we need to choose surrender in these situations, there are 3 questions we need to ask. The first one is:
Is it worth my concern? Whatever you are trying to control, is it really worth your concern? Is it important? Life changing? Transformative? None of us can do everything – we cannot control everything and so we need to pick our battles. There are some things that are important that we need to be involved in, but there are some things that are not. It is important to know what is really worth our concern because if we try to micromanage everyone and everything, we will eventual offend those who are working and living around us. I learned this lesson the hard way as a pastor in Altoona.
I’ve shared this before, but I do like to control what things look like in the church and especially in the sanctuary. One Christmas we had over 100 poinsettias displayed for the season and the woman who arranged them was great at what she did. She had a great style and a great eye and she set everything up beautifully. She asked if everything looked ok and I said yes, and really – it did. It was beautiful. I just sat in the sanctuary for a while enjoying the beauty and then I saw a poinsettia that if I turned it just a little bit, it would look better. Then there were two that if they were switched, they would show more red. And then just another tweak here and there and then it was perfect – to me.
A year later, Jan and I were in the sanctuary setting up poinsettias again and when she was done she asked me if everything looked good. I said again that everything looked just great and she said, ok. But then she said, if you are going to move then around like you did last year, let me know and I’m glad to help you. I was busted. There was no anger in her voice, no resentment, just an honest desire to serve but I had undermined her service. I didn’t think she noticed my moving things around but she had and she remembered it for a year. My control had made her feel like her work wasn’t good enough and it was more than good enough. I learned the power of surrendering my need to control everything to God. The power in surrendering that control was a stronger relationship with a friend. The power was affirming and lifting someone else up. This doesn’t mean I still don’t move things around – but at least I try to tell people when I do it and I am still working to surrender that need to be in control to God.
So is it worth my concern? Is it worth getting involved and taking control? The second question is this: Is it mine to control? There are some things that are definitely ours to control and we cannot give those up. Surrendering to God is not a license to let go of responsibility – it is not a license to be lax or lazy – but if it is not ours to control then we shouldn’t try to control it. For example, our personal finances have been given to us to control and we are called to control them God’s way. God calls us to work and be productive, God calls us to be faithful and give a tithe back to God and God calls us to be generous and give to those in need out of all we have but we are the ones who have to do these things. No one make this choice for us.
So there are many things that are our responsibility to manage and control and we have to act on them – but it is not our responsibility to run everyone else’s life and it is not our responsibility to comment on everyone else’s actions. 1 Thessalonians 4:11. This doesn’t mean we don’t share our concerns with those we love and to share these concerns with grace and sensitivity but it is not up to us to tell others how they should do everything in their lives. There needs to be balance, love and wisdom. We need to learn how to trust in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding when it comes to speaking to others and guiding them, then God will make our paths straight and help make our decisions right and at times keep our mouths shut and our hands off. If it is not ours to control we need to surrender our desire to control it over to God.
The last question we need to ask ourselves is this: Is it for God alone? Is whatever we are trying to control for us to control or is it really God’s job to work it out. The truth is that there are some things that only God can do. Only God can change a person’s heart. Only God can bring healing to a loved one. Only God can control the future of our children and those we love. The more we try to control what is God’s alone, the more we become anxious and troubled. If we are anxious and troubled in some situation then maybe we are trying to control something that really belongs to God. Surrendering to God means truly trusting God to work in that situation? Can we trust that God will work in us and in others for his will and pleasure and purpose?
As we have seen, when we surrender to God there is power that comes to our relationships and a peace that comes to our hearts because God, who is more than able, is in charge. This is why Jesus lived with such peace – he was in a state of constant surrender to God. While all of Jesus life was a constant surrendering to God, where we can see Jesus make the choice of surrender over control was when he was tempted in the wilderness.
After 40 days of fasting, Jesus was hungry and was tempted to turn stones to bread. It was a choice Jesus had. He could control his situation and care for his own needs or he could surrender to God and trust that God would meet his needs. He choose to surrender. Then Jesus was tempted to gain all the wealth of the world by worshiping the devil. Jesus could control his situation and gain all things now or he could surrender to God and let God bring the world to him. Jesus chose surrender. The last temptation was to throw himself off the pinnacle of the Temple so that angels could catch him before he hit the ground. This would reveal to the world that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus could control his future, his destiny and do things quickly and his way, or he could surrender to God’s will and way of revealing Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus chose surrender.
Jesus trusted his father so surrendered himself every time instead of choosing control and that choice meant that Jesus saved the world. Abram and Sarai chose control – Jesus chose surrender. Choosing control, Abram and Saria brought chaos to the world, choosing surrender, Jesus brought peace. What will we choose? Will we choose to surrender to God or will we work to control every aspect of our lives and the lives of everyone around us. Controlling everything will bring brokenness and division, surrendering to God will bring peace. Philippians 4:6-7
So this week, trust God and choose surrender over control. Choose peace over confusion, life over death. Once again, Choose Jesus.
I Choose – Surrender Over Control
1. We all like to be in control of certain things.
• In what little areas of your life do you like to be in control?
• Name the big things in life that you are trying to control.
2. Think of a situation where trying to control something in your life went horribly wrong.
3. To determine if you need to choose surrender over control, reflect on and answer these three questions:
• Is it worth my concern?
• Is it mine to control?
• Is it for God alone?
4. Read the story of Jesus temptation in the wilderness found in Luke 4:1-13.
• What was Jesus tempted to control in each situation?
• What would have happened if he chose control?
• What helped Jesus choose to surrender?
• What can you learn from Jesus on how to choose surrender over control in every situation?
Prayer for the week:
Almighty God, I’ve been trying to run my life like I know better than You. Forgive me. Holy Spirit, I invite you to loosen my grip on control. I surrender my family, my finances, my work and my life to You. AMEN
Memorize Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to God and He will make your paths straight.